Far too often for people not in the know, the businessperson gets a bad rap. The old image of Gordon Gecko saying, “greed, for lack of a better word, is good” is burnished indelibly into our collective psyche.
But it turns out that the opposite is actually far closer to the truth.
Indeed, self-employed individuals are among the most passionate, idealistic people out there. After all, how could you be anything but if you are willing to quit the comfortable job, forgo your benefits, follow your passion, take out a loan, open up shop, find and serve your new customers, and believe you will be profitable and happy? I would call that pretty darn idealistic – in the best sense of the word.
So maybe it is no surprise that the self-employed are among the most active people in terms of giving back to their communities. After all, it is the community that supports their business, the community that makes up their employees and customers, and it is the community that keeps them in business.
How do they give back, and how can you? Here are nine great ways:
1. Become a mentor:
One of the real problems with all of the educational cutbacks we see due to budget cuts is that young people have fewer opportunities to mingle with mentors. Teachers and coaches are spread thin, and after-school activities are disappearing. Kids need mentors.
So one place you or your business can make a great difference is in our schools and with young people. Mentoring them, not only about business and entrepreneurship, but also about life, would be invaluable.
And while we are at it, let’s not stop there. Mentoring older people as well, especially those just starting in business, is equally beneficial. You can do this through your local chamber of commerce, trade organization, or SCORE chapter.
Sponsor a little league team. Sponsor a concert. Co-sponsor a big event. Sponsor public television. The value of sponsoring is two-fold:
- First, and again, this has to do with the lean budgetary times we are in, being a sponsor is often the difference between an event going forwards and not. You will be a hero.
- Sponsoring is an excellent way to soft sell you business. People will see your sponsorship signs and connect you to the good feelings they have about the event. It is branding and selling and impressing all rolled into one.
3. Hire a vet:
Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home now and they need work. In fact, the unemployment rank among veterans, especially young veterans, is extraordinarily high. Frighteningly high.
And the ironic thing is that these folks make great employees. They have learned how to take direction, think independently, work hard, be a team, and accomplish a goal. What else could you want from an employee?
4. Hire an intern:
Students need to learn skills and need to get recommendation letters. You need to get work done and don’t want to spend a lot of money. It sounds like a match made in heaven, eh?
5. Offer discounts to the elderly and those in need: We don’t need to make a profit on every sale to make a profit. By offering an senior citizen discount, you help them, and they will become loyal customers and recommend you.
And not only that, it feels good.
6. Offer in-kind contributions:
If you sell widgets, consider offering your widgets to different non-profits in the area. They would welcome the help and it would really probably cost you little.
7. Giving a percentage of your sales to charity:
You would be surprised at how many small businesses make this a part of their regular business practice. Not a few set aside something like 5% of profits for charitable giving. Yes, you can deduct this, but better, it builds goodwill and good karma.
8. Offer health and wellness programs for employees:
Like so many things on this list, there are both selfish and selfless benefits that come from doing the right thing. Helping your employees be healthier is good, and that it may cut down on your health care costs doesn’t hurt either.
9. Go green:
Greening your business is easier than ever. It saves the planet, can cut your costs, and definitely impresses a certain segment of the population. For example, did you know that there is a green alternative to the Automobile Club that offers roadside auto and bicycle assistance, among many other eco-benefits? If you look, there are lots of similar programs.
Steve Strauss is a senior small business columnist at USA TODAY and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible. Steve is your host here at TheSelfEmployed.com.